Developing a personal brand

by Sonia Straface

BRAMPTON, Ont. — The theme at this year’s 17th annual TransCore Link Conference in Brampton, Ont. was all about branding and networking.

Attendees who gathered at the Lionhead Golf & Country Club for the event were challenged to meet new people and collect as many business cards as they could during the morning conference as part of TransCore’s effort to get people to connect with those outside their network.

And to push the idea of why networking is important, TransCore organized a panel of experts who had a “fireside chat” about the power of personal branding.

There to moderate the discussion was industry veteran, Mike McCarron. McCarron is currently president of Left Lane Associates, a firm that specializes in the monetizing of transport companies. Experts on the panel included: Sue Douglas, president of SDC Manager Solutions, who does HR consulting, internal branding and is a culture specialist; David Kincaid, founder and CEO of Level5 Strategy Group and brand expert whose clients include Harley-Davidson and Petro-Canada; and Roger Clarkson, an executive coach whose clients include Canadian Tire and Walmart.

McCarron said he was passionate about the topic because he believes that trucking as an industry was behind the times.

“I don’t think we place enough (emphasis) on our personal brands and I don’t think we work on our personal brands enough,” he said. “The margins are awful and it’s because we haven’t adapted as an industry. I don’t think people appreciate the type of opportunities they are losing because they have a weak or non-existent personal brand.”

What is your personal brand?

To get things going, McCarron asked each panelist to define what exactly the term “personal brand” meant to them.

“It’s just who you are, there’s not a science to it – it’s what you do and how you act,” said Douglas. “I don’t think there is a difference between personal and professional brand. They should be the same because you should be consistent all the time.”

Clarkson agreed with Douglas adding your brand is the impression you give others, while Kincaid explained your brand is closely tied with your reputation.

“The world, the way it works today, it’s no longer a seller’s market, it’s a buyer’s market. When I started, you could control branding…it was a packaged goods brand universe,” he said. “Today I no longer have that control. We lose the control over how the marketplace views you because in one shared YouTube clip of you stumbling around in a conference or a bad Tweet, suddenly you lose control. It’s your brand and your reputation…a brand is your promise to people.”

Branding takes time

Technology has helped people by allowing them to expand their brands into the online world. Social media has changed the game in terms of how someone is viewed online. Even a simple Google search can have someone determine whether or not they want to work with or hire you. McCarron brought this up to the panelists and asked them to explain how people should begin to manage their brand, especially the one they are putting online.

Douglas brought up the concept of how to add value to your brand by fulfilling your promise to the industry.

“If anyone needs something, they should see me as a resource – that’s the brand I’m trying to propagate,” she said.

To do this, Douglas said she uses social media regularly to confirm this by posting articles that might interest her followers and that are relevant to the image she wants to uphold.

“I have to say, (I spend at) least an hour a day, if not more working on my brand, because it’s critical and it’s constantly out there,” she said. “I get at least 20 new Twitter followers a day because I’m constantly propagating my brand…I’m a resource so they expect me to be giving insight by putting them in touch. Every day I have to post something on LinkedIn and Twitter or I can’t sleep.”

The panelists added that networking within and outside of your industry is important in perpetuating your brand, though they fear that most people don’t understand what networking really is.

“Networking is an over-abused and misunderstood word,” said Kincaid. “Meeting some people isn’t networking…and networking isn’t going to every industry event.”

He said a good rule of thumb is that if the event isn’t taking you into a new space to meet new people to add value to your brand, then it isn’t really “networking.”

What to do if you have no brand or a bad brand

For those who don’t have a brand, getting started can be tricky. The panelists advised that if you’re looking into building your brand, it’s important to point out your strengths as well as your visions and goals.

“It starts with a purpose, or a goal or a vision,” said Kincaid. “It can be something tangible like ‘I want to retire at 60’ or ‘I want to help more people.’ But without a vision you get up every day…and you’re not moving in a specific direction.”

“Be true to yourself and don’t commit to something you can’t accomplish,” added Douglas on how to get started developing your brand. “Don’t be afraid of self-promotion. You are a product.”

“I try to get people to stop and think about themselves,” said Clarkson. “And we go back and look at their career and brainstorm key accomplishments and build on that.”

Having no brand and having a bad brand are equally offensive because you get lost in the industry, claims Douglas.

“If people can’t see value with you, then you become price comparing and you may as well be using RFPs,” she said. “Because of my brand, I get 100% of my business through referrals…price does not become a discussion factor when you see the value. If you have a brand and you are adding value then price is not your differentiator.”

However, if you have a bad brand, said Kincaid, you’ve got a major issue, because now you have to change the public’s mind.

“Spending too much time on your blog or on Twitter telling people how dependable you are, stop doing that,” he said. “You’re wasting your money, you’re telling the market something they don’t believe. You’re wasting resources. You need to personally fix the ingredients of the service you’re selling.”

He added that no matter how bad your brand and reputation are within the industry, they can be fixed, but it won’t be easy.

“Anything is reparable if you put in the effort and time and it’s important to you,” he said, adding that you have to own up to your faults and repair the problem directly to rebrand yourself.

And finally, if you work for a company that has a bad brand, the solution is simple, according to the panelists.

“Go work somewhere else,” said Douglas. “There can’t be a conflict between your brand and your company’s brand. It shades your own personal brand …You’ve got to work somewhere that aligns with your own values.”

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